Zion Church had previously rejected requests from government authorities to install closed-circuit cameras. Officials in Beijing argued that the church had held events without registering. Shouwang Church in the past has been forced to meet in outdoor locations as government pressure made it difficult for the congregation to secure rented or purchased space. As previously reported, the church’s founding pastor was placed under house arrest in 2011 and many church members were arrested after the church began worshiping outdoors after its eviction from a building.
An influential house church in Beijing was shut down Saturday after 20 government and police officials raided Bible classes at two different locations, changed the locks and demanded congregants vow never to worship as a congregation again.
China’s crackdown against underground house churches continued last Saturday with the forced closure of Beijing’s Shouwang Church, according to the Chinese persecution watchdog organization China Aid.
Shouwang Church is one of the most prominent among thousands of unregistered house churches in the city and is said to be attended by over 1,000 people.
As the congregation has suffered through years of challenges and persecution at the hands of the government for refusing to join the state-sanctioned church, it was accused of refusing to register with the government as a “social organization.”
But according to the nonprofit run by prominent Chinese human rights leader Bob Fu, the church had previously submitted an application to the Haidian District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in 2006 but was rejected because founding Pastor Jin Tianming was not officially ordained by the state.
Christians attending the Bible classes had planned to meet around 1 p.m. but instead were taken by policy to a nearby school where they were held for hours, questioned and told that the church had been shut down.
The nonprofit NGO International Christian Concern reports that another group of Christians affiliated with the church were detained from another location and also taken to the school. Officials reportedly switched out the locks at both locations of the raids.
The number of Christians detained by police for hours before being released is believed to be between 20 and 30, reports China Aid.
According to ICC, officials read out a document formally banning Shouwang Church and demanded that those in attendance sign a letter vowing that they will no longer attend the church. However, the detainees reportedly refused.
Additionally, authorities were said to have demanded that Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng sign a document admitting that the church conducted activities as an organization without registering with the government.
The closing of Shouwang Church comes after authorities made headlines last September for banning Beijing’s largest house church, Zion Church, and confiscating “illegal promotional materials.”